Someone should take a look at the mood of Facebook’s top-level executives. The backlash against the early-2012 study on manipulating the moods of hundreds of thousands of users has drawn the ire of not only regulators, but the journal it was published in.
It is nice to know that the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences does not vet the studies it publishes. It saw Facebook on the header and rubber stamped it. Now that the outrage has reached a fever pitch, PNAS has dumped the controversy on Facebook. The journal has released a statement that it typically publishes studies that allows a user to opt out of being researched.
UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office is opening a formal inquiry into the study to see if the social network broke any data collection laws. The complaint says that the study messed with people’s minds. The office maintains that Facebook manipulated users by altering their news feeds, and that it went outside the boundaries of ethical research.
I’m not seeing the big problem with this. Facebook didn’t even need to do a study. If people read enough crap, they will start to believe it. That’s Politics 101. Besides, our entire digital lives is nothing but a big A/B split test. Marketers crave data, and we happily hand it over.
Facebook issued a non-apology yesterday concerning the way the data was collected. The company maintains they had user consent due to broad language in the social network’s policy. Yeah, that boring Terms of Service contains all sorts of goodies.
One problem Facebook may have is that they didn’t alter the terms of service to include post research until four months after the experiment. The UK probe shouldn’t cause any lost sleep for Zuckerberg and Facebook. The office has the ability to levy fines of up to $857,000. Considering Facebook has $3 billion on its balance sheets, I doubt they care too much.
Stateside, the FTC is shrugging at the outrage over the study. That is where Facebook would be most concerned. They do not want a FTC investigation over the study. So far, the regulatory body has refused to comment. The translation on that is this will be a non-story come next week.
There has been an official complaint to the FTC regarding the study. EPIC has lodged the complain over breaching a user’s privacy. We will see if that amounts to anything. Complaints and investigations are two vastly different things.
The entire study was looking a 700,000 users and their reactions to positive or negative stories. The team wanted to study ‘emotional contagion.’ The end result was that those that saw negative posts were more likely to write negative posts. Positive stories saw the reverse reaction – positive stories netted positive responses.
In the end it comes down to privacy. Should Facebook had notified users of the research? Absolutely. Is this a case of Facebook being a huge company so it will get stones thrown at it? You better believe it. The more interesting piece is the research itself. It shows without a doubt emotional contagion. That’s interesting in the wake of the Arab Spring, Ukraine and the conflicts in Syria and Iraq.